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Dr Penny Bishop: Effective strategies

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Dr Penny Bishop is a professor at the University of Vermont in middle years education, and directs the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education. In this clip, she talks about her time in New Zealand studying middle schooling – gathering perspectives on the elements that make up an effective middle years teacher.

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

In this interview, Penny Bishop states that:

"Teachers in the middle years need to make learning relevant; need to help kids find their way through the various identities that they try on daily, and to integrate that into their teaching and learning environments. They really need a caring environment and they need to know that adults care about them. And to embrace the social nature of the age group – to be able to embed that in learning opportunities."

Consider this statement in your own school context. As a school, where are you at now? How could you provide professional learning opportunities and teacher appraisal systems that will help you deliver a responsive program to your middle school students?

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Transcript

Hi, I’m Penny Bishop and I’m a professor at the University of Vermont in middle years education, and I also direct the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education, which is focused on harnessing the power of technology to engage middle level learners.

So in 2008 I was fortunate to receive a Sir Ian Axford Public Policy Fellowship to come to NZ for 6 months and study middle schooling here in this country. That afforded me a remarkable opportunity really to study New Zealand’s perspective on middle schooling/schooling for young adolescents – years 7-10.

Regardless of the building they are in/the school type they are in, there is a specific type of pedagogy that really benefits students of this age. We know that they require choice. We know that they really require relevance in what they are learning. They learn best when they are active and hands-on and they will be the first to tell you that. They want teachers who have a good sense of humour and who care about them as people. There are a lot of things that go in to being an effective middle years teacher. My focus was really on gathering New Zealander’s perspectives about what those things are.

So as a result I travelled both Islands and interviewed a vast array of stakeholders. I’ve interviewed folks from universities who are involved in teacher education, from the teachers’ council, teacher’s union representatives, principals, teachers and students – and I’m sure I’m missing some. I was able to sort of draw a picture from that research of what New Zealander’s want for their kids in the middle years in terms of teaching– what does it take to be effective at that age?

There was remarkable agreement across stakeholder groups about the characteristics of effective middle years teachers. We were interested [myself and the Ministry of Education] … actually the Ministry of Education was wonderfully gracious to pair two additional researchers with me to conduct some of the research, and I was very grateful to them for that.

We really framed the enquiry around teachers’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions – or personal attributes. In those three areas there were specific findings that emerged that helped us frame the picture for effective middle years teaching.

In the category of knowledge, certainly the curriculum framework is a big part of defining what content knowledge is for middle years teachers – what they need to know. One of the unique issues that arises at this age is that often their teachers are primary trained and yet they start to get in to a level of sophistication with the content area in years 7 & 8 that some people in our study group felt that they were unprepared for. So there is a bit of a tension there in the teacher preparation aspect when it comes to content. Also, very important were highlighted very clear knowledge of the acquisition of literacy and numeracy – those were big pieces. The third piece is around adolescent development – that teachers of this age really need to understand the developmental nature and needs of 11-14 year-olds.

In the skills area there were also very clear and consistent messages – that teachers in the middle years need to make learning relevant; need to help kids find their way through the various identities that they try on daily, and to integrate that into their teaching and learning environments. They really need a caring environment and they need to know that adults care about them. And to embrace the social nature of the age group – to be able to embed that in learning opportunities.

Also to ensure that they have a variety of assessment tools to be able to show a bigger picture of the ever-changing young adolescent was really important. Relevant learning. Students being able to work at their own pace. Small group work/collaborative work, and especially hands-on practical work.

The third area was teacher dispositions, and it was very clear that there is a certain affinity for this age group. Teachers either…it’s like liver, you either love it or hate it. Teachers who choose to teach at this level generally do so because they really connect with students, they feed of their energy, they like their sense of humour, they appreciate the identity development that’s going on at that age, and they are ready to dig deep with those students who are facing, sometimes for the first time, the quintessential questions of life. So it’s a very exciting time, and teachers who enjoy that age group that’s the kind of thing that they are getting into. So that’s really around the idea of an affinity for the age group.

One of the central tensions that emerged during the research, and was quite common across stakeholder groups as well, was this idea of needing to have the best of both worlds in a middle years teacher. That in fact you do need teachers who have in-depth knowledge of their content areas, in fact multiple content areas usually; and they also require deep knowledge of effective pedagogy, teaching and learning. With the danger of oversimplifying, what people felt often was that the primary teacher preparation often served teachers very well in the teaching and learning – understanding how we learn and teach. And that secondary was much more - secondary emphasised content area knowledge much more, and that, in fact, when you are teaching in the middle, you need both, and that provides a particular challenge to teachers of that age group.

So because of that, one of my policy recommendations to the Ministry was to think about teacher preparation here in New Zealand, and how the Ministry might begin to move forward with some teacher training that’s specific to the middle years to help all teachers of that age group understand early adolescent development and what works best for those students.


Published on: 31 Jan 2011


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